Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
432pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9.5/10
Amazon Rating: N/A/5
LibraryThing Rating: 5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.55/5

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is a young adult contemporary fantasy novel coming out this September.  It will be available in hardcover, as an ebook, and as an audiobook.  Since it ends with “to be continued,” there will be at least one sequel, although I haven’t been able to find any information on it or how many books there will be total. (Update: I asked Laini Taylor about the number of books on Twitter and she said there are two sequels planned at the moment.)

Karou, a 17-year-old art student living in Prague, is rather unusual with her myriad tattoos, blue hair (that she swears grows that color!), and propensity to disappear on mysterious errands.  With a sketchbook full of characters that are clearly not human and background stories for each, she has a reputation for a wild imagination.  However, it’s a true story, and Brimstone, the star of Karou’s drawings, raised her and is the one who sends her on dangerous errands that even Karou doesn’t understand.

Actually, there’s a lot about her life Karou doesn’t understand.  Where did she come from and why has she always had these strange markings on her hands?  What is Brimstone’s fascination with collecting teeth and reason for sending her out on a moment’s notice to bring them to him?  Most importantly, why is everything about Karou and where she came from such a closely guarded secret?

The arrival of angels and burning fires around the world begins the unraveling of it all – both an ancient enmity and a past love.

Ever since I discovered Laini Taylor’s Dreamdark books, I have been a fan and each of her books I’ve read since then has only cemented that even more.  She is one of those rare authors who has a special gift for excelling at every part of crafting a story, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone is amazing.  The writing is gorgeous, the dialogue is both creative and flowing, the characters are whimsical yet real, the mythology is imaginative as it slowly unfolds, and it is never dull. I do believe Laini Taylor’s greatest gift is her way with words and how she can do everything from write a beautifully worded passage to a humorous conversation to painting exactly how emotions like deep loneliness feel.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is reminiscent of the stories in Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times and has more in common with that than her Dreamdark books, which are lighter and do not contain any references to sex.  It deals with love in a world infused with mythology that draws from other general myths but still remains unique.  It’s populated by characters with different motivations and drives, whose complexity comes out throughout the course of the story.  As the main character, Karou is of course the most fleshed out.  She’s so vibrant with her slight mischievous steak that leads her to waste the wishes she’s given by Brimstone on frivolous things like getting her way or wreaking some vengeance on an ex-boyfriend.  (Rest assured, it was relatively minor vengeance in the grand scheme of things and he very much deserved what he had coming to him!)  Underneath her creative spirit that seems so full of life is such a deep longing to be loved.  With no family in the human world she mainly inhabits and only one close friend, a girl she can’t even openly talk to about her secret world beyond the portals or the reason she disappears on “errands,” Karou is haunted by an abiding loneliness.

The details of the world Karou visits trickle slowly throughout the novel, and even Karou doesn’t know a lot of them at the beginning of the book.  The mysteries stack up, and by the final pages much is revealed about the past and the nature of the “devils” and the “angels.”  It’s not black and white, good or bad, and I particularly liked this nature and how sympathetic most of the different characters and their actions were.

Toward the end, the book did shift more focus more on the romance and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that at first.  It was a bit more of a rushed relationship than I normally like, but as hinted at earlier, there was much more complexity to it than first revealed.  While I initially felt there was more emphasis on the love story than I wanted when it became more of a central part of the story, that didn’t last for long once the details came out.  By the end of the story, the past had come out in to the open, but the next book will need to deal with the consequences of a present act done without all the information.

After reading through this review, I feel that it is much more vague than normal and that I’m not saying as much about the book as usual, but I really, really don’t want to give too much away about Karou’s other world and spoil it.  A lot of the fun in reading this book was in seeing these mysteries set up and then slowly learning more about the answers over the course of the novel.  Another big strength was the writing, and since I don’t have a final copy, I can’t even quote an example from that.  (However, I will be on the lookout for excerpts and will make sure I post a link to one if I come across one at any point!)

The more I read by Laini Taylor, the more impressed I am.  Her Dreamdark books were lovely, and  “Hatchling” in Lips Touch: Three Times is quite possibly the best piece of fiction shorter than novel length I’ve read.  Likewise, Daughter of Smoke and Bone showcases some gorgeous writing and creativity.  The world is dark but hopeful, the characters are memorable and vibrant, and it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one of those rare books that I find it hard to imagine anyone who likes fantasy not enjoying, at least as long as they don’t have a problem with a romantic storyline or conversations about what constitutes an “unnecessary penis.”

My Rating: 9.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I picked up an ARC at Book Expo America.


Jeff Vandermeer is working on a book titled If You Lived Here: The Top 30 All Time Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Worlds for Underland Press. They are looking for nominations from readers on their favorite fantasy and science fiction worlds, and it’s possible they may request to use what you have to say about one of your favorite imaginary worlds in the book.

I’ve been thinking about submitting some myself, but I’m having a horrible time limiting it to just 3.  There’s the quirkiness of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, the overall awesomeness of life in the Culture as created by Iain M. Banks, the open-minded beauty and expansiveness of Jacqueline Carey’s Terre d’Ange (ok, I guess that doesn’t count since it’s not quite secondary but on an alternate Earth).  Oh, and N. K. Jemisin’s world of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms in which gods are abundant is pretty neat too…  And so is Malazan with its ascendants… Sharon Shinn’s Samaria is pretty interesting, and so is the division between summer and winter in Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen… And so many others, even if a lot of them have enough turmoil that I may not want to actually live there!

What are your favorite worlds from fantasy and science fiction? What is it you find so intriguing and memorable about them?

The winners of Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey have been drawn via random.org – but don’t despair quite yet if you’re not one of them since there are two other giveaways of this book I’ve come across on other book review sites I read.  You can enter to win a copy at The Discriminating Fangirl right now, and there will be another chance to win tomorrow at The Book Smugglers!

The winners are:

Molly from Ohio
Holly from Oklahoma
Amanda from Washington

Congratulations to the winners!  I hope you enjoy the books.

Good luck to everyone else on one of the other sites!

Another Sunday, more additions to the TBR.  Except this Sunday there’s also some dismay because of the lack of Game of Thrones tonight.  Good thing the next book is almost out!

This week was an exciting week – two of my most anticipated new releases from this year showed up.  I also ended up with hand-me-down copies of the entire Hunger Games trilogy, but I’m not going to list them here since I already did list the first book in one of these posts when I got it – and I suspect everyone has both seen the covers and heard what the books are about plenty of times by now.

The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth BearThe Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

Words cannot express how excited I am to read this book!  Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear are two of my favorite authors, and it’s a sequel to A Companion to Wolves, which I really enjoyed (review).  It’s an animal companion fantasy based on Norse mythology in which men and wolves bond together to protect the people from trolls and other creatures. Of course, being Bear and Monette, there are also some issues of gender and sexuality included. It was also a little bit coming of age story since the main character was a teenager who had to discover for himself the differences between what he thought about the world and what his father believed.  It will be interesting to see what happens in this sequel!

I had some other books on the list to read first, but I’ll probably make this my first book to read in August if I can hold out that long.  The Tempering of Men will be released on August 16 (hardcover, ebook).

In Iskryne, the war against the Trollish invasion has been won, and the lands of men are safe again…at least for a while. Isolfr and his sister, the Konigenwolf Viradechtis, have established their own wolfhaell. Viradechtis has taken two mates, and so the human pack has two war leaders. And in the way of the pack, they must come to terms with each other, must become brothers instead of rivals–for Viradechtis will not be gainsaid.

She may even be prescient.

A new danger comes to Iskryne. An army of men approaches, an army that wishes to conquer and rule. The giant trellwolves and their human brothers have never hunted men before. They will need to learn if they are to defend their homes.

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuireOne Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series.  It will be released on September 6 (mass market paperback, ebook).  The first four books in this series are: Rosemary and Rue (review), A Local Habitation (review), An Artificial Night (review), and Late Eclipses (review).

I have to admit, there was some jumping up and down and squealing involved when I opened this one.  October Daye is one of my top three urban fantasy series – maybe even top two since I’ve been enjoying the more recent installments of this one even more than the most recent Mercy Thompson books.  Each book in this series so far has been better than the one that came before, and the last book, Late Eclipses, was especially satisfying and unputdownable.

October “Toby” Daye is settling into her new role as Countess of Goldengreen. She’s actually dating again, and she’s taken on Quentin as her squire. So, of course, it’s time for things to take a turn for the worse.

Someone has kidnapped the sons of the regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must find the missing boys and prove the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. Toby’s search will take her from the streets of San Francisco to the lands beneath the waves, and her deadline is firm: she must find the boys in three days’ time, or all of the Mists will pay the price. But someone is determined to stop her-and whoever it is isn’t playing by Oberon’s Laws…

(Note:  It says it at the bottom, but just to be clear–this is a post from John, not Kristen.  Blame me.  And thanks to @Katiebabs for the heads up.)

So, it looks like there’s another Thing.

In a rather condescending guest article on SantaCruz.com, Daniela Hurezanu has come to the conclusion that The End is Nigh, and 20-something female book bloggers are either largely to blame or a primary outcome.  Causality isn’t really clear, but I’m guessing the idea is that it’s all part of one giant feedback loop that will end in haggard, unshaven English Lit PhDs standing on street corners and distributing tracts of James Joyce to anyone willing to make eye contact.  In short, the inmates are taking over the asylum and using the doctor’s Goya as a dartboard.

Haven’t we been here before?  Many times, in fact?

Look, I’m willing to agree with her to a certain extent.  I’ve seen Idiocracy, and I’ve seen enough evidence in the real world to wonder if it’s less fictional than prophetic.  There are things down that road that we as a society (or plurality of societies, hello Internet!) should be worried about.  But why is this one of them?

For Ms. Hurezanu, who Google seems to think is a classicist, translator, and critic, I can see why it would be troubling.  Other than a seemingly random attack on kid’s books, her article breaks down into three main complaints:  it is hard to persuade American presses to publish foreign books, there is a waning interest from publishers in “serious” literature, and publishers are actually treating the Children of the Blog seriously instead of ruffling their hair and hanging their (presumably finger-painted) word-mush on the refrigerator as is good and proper.  Since these complaints line up nicely with who Google says she is, I’m going to assume we have the right person–if not, I apologize and will make any necessary corrections as they’re pointed out to me.

So, point-by-point then:

It is hard to persuade American presses to publish foreign books

Suffice it to say that this is not exactly unusual for American media in general, and even when an idea is imported it is almost always recreated for American audiences–with the exception of music, for various reasons.  It’s just the way our culture works; for better or more likely worse, we’re exporters, not importers.  Obviously, a translator will feel this deficit more than most, both for practical reasons and because they have greater exposure to what the rest of us are missing.  I won’t argue the point.

There is a waning interest from publishers in “serious” literature

Well, yeah.  Is this somehow surprising?  “Serious” literature has the same status as “serious” music and “serious” film, and generally the same audience as well.  While this group probably has a number of defining characteristics, the one that publishers are most interested in is that it is small.  “Serious” literature does not meet the needs of mass audiences, and frankly never has.

Here’s a fun game.  Go to this site and print out the list, then take it to work with you tomorrow.  Pass it around and ask your co-workers to check off any names they recognize (Churchill doesn’t count), and add a double-check if they can name a work by the author in question.  Put a minus sign next to any of the checks if the only place they heard of the author or work was in school.  What do you think the result will be?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there’s an argument for trickle-down culture (it’s only slightly more convincing than the argument for trickle-down economics).  But if “serious” literature was meeting a need for the larger population, shouldn’t all those names end up checked off?  More to the point, when you hand the list to your co-workers and they glance down through it, shouldn’t every third name elicit a warm little smile and a irrepressible memory about how reading this book at that time helped mold the person they are today?  When discussing “serious” literature, “serious” is often a code word for inaccessible, which is a code word for unpopular, which is a code word for pretty much irrelevant.  When that is not the case, great things can happen.  Unfortunately, it generally is the case, as a quick look at Amazon’s bestseller list will demonstrate.  Of course there are exceptions, not all high literature is written in that style, but enough of it is that I’ll hold by the argument.

But we’re skipping a level here.  Hurezanu’s implication is that, not only is this happening, but that it’s a great loss.  That’s an assumption that I would like explained.  Who is feeling the loss?  The people who have never heard of a vast majority of “serious” literature authors, much less read their books?  What is being lost?  An opportunity to wade through a dense thicket of text that is above most people’s reading level searching for a kernel of existential truth?  Hell, I get that by reading Terry Pratchett.

So, while I can sympathize with the waning of an art form (I am, technically, an artist) I’m left asking what the greater impact is supposed to be.  This complaint is coming from someone with a vested and understandable interest in buoying “the Book” and is premised on some halcyon days when “the Book” was strong and good.  For the vast majority of humanity, those days either never existed or were a tiny slice of years sandwiched between a rise in literacy rates and the explosion of media distribution.

Bloggers are being treated like real people

On to the reason for this particular rant.

I just read an interesting book called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser (of MoveOn fame, though that’s only minimally reflected in this book).  It makes the argument that the personalization features of hub sites like Google and Facebook are potentially harmful to society as a whole because it creates an artificial echo chamber around the people who use them.  Even worse, because these personalizations are algorithmically moderated and usually transparent to the user, they create a perception that the echo chamber is all there really is.  It’s an argument I find compelling, at least partially because I’ve made it so often myself.

Hurezanu appears to be making a similar argument about the book blogosphere, saying that blog authors are a largely homogenous group who review a largely homogenous selection of books, mostly urban fantasy and romance.  I’ll go so far as to say that there might be something to that, given that there is a natural inclination toward producing fresh reviews of new, popular books–almost by definition.  For that matter, I’ll even admit to teasing Kristen about reading urban fantasy because I don’t personally like it as a genre.  But does that mean that the book blogosphere, at the prodding of presses and publicists who have an agenda focused on the new, has become a filter bubble regulated by bloggers?

I certainly don’t see any evidence of that.  A quick look through the blogroll to the right will show more individual voices than a list of newspaper book critics would have twenty years ago, and that’s mostly in the F&SF genre.  Would I be happy to see more older books get more coverage on blogs?  Certainly, and if the book blogging community decides to take anything good out of this kerfuffle I hope that’s it.  But how often did print critics review those books, either before the rise of the blog or today?

The part of Hurezanu’s post that I and I’m sure most others find distasteful–sorry, I’ll use her passive-aggressive phrasing–”disappointing” is the belittlement of bloggers as a community.  Her constant use of the word “girls” to refer to women in their twenties and up, her bewilderment at this damn “tweeting”, and her righteous indignation that somebody who is actually part of the target audience for these publishers has some degree of influence on them is somewhere between sad and laughable.  Of course, it’s also old hat, as I said above.  The people who used to shape the message have not reacted well to new forms of data curation, whether it be executives at record labels or editors (or reviewers) at newspapers.  But Hurezanu’s problem with the little-girl-blogger (how are they simultaneously little girls and housewives, by the way?) isn’t so much that they aren’t properly treating capital-B-Books–presumably, those are beyond their scope anyway–but that they’re bringing their pop culture, mass media consumption into the sanctum sanctorum of reviewing.

But I have to ask the same question that I did for “serious” literature above:  what, exactly, is being lost?

Speaking as somebody who is about to be handed a terminal degree in an obscure field, I can tell you (again) that specialization sucks.  It also changes your perspective on the world around you.  Sometimes, this is good:  a molecular biologist may have a pretty informed view on what hand soap to use to prevent infection, and I’d want to ask them over, say, a florist.  In other cases it’s just a distortion.  This is particularly true when you, the expert, are trying to project how a non-expert will interpret information.  Greater context and a deeper understanding of material means that the expert will react very differently than the non-expert.  If this isn’t obvious, compare the list of highest grossing films with the list of best reviewed films.  (Obviously if your intention is academic criticism, this argument doesn’t apply; but then, why would she be complaining about bloggers who don’t share that audience and shouldn’t have any impact on it?)

So why, then, does a professional reviewer produce inherently better reviews than than the “electronic chatter” of a blogger?  (We’ll assume that bloggers are inherently not professional for this discussion since she did, though I don’t believe that.)  Usually this argument comes down to somebody saying that the professional will tell people what they “should” be reading, while the blogger can’t because they don’t have the domain knowledge to understand a larger context of the work.  But the final audience won’t have that knowledge either, so why would they get more out of reading a “serious” book than a blogger would?

Now that I’ve written far too much (don’t feed the trolls!) I’ll just finish up with this:  If Ms. Hurezanu wants to make this argument, then I would challenge her to make the argument.  Given her apparent academic background, I’m sure she’s capable of it.  Don’t just post some off-hand, insulting comments on a random web site where you don’t even bother to back up your bald assertions and unsupported assumptions.  Answer the sort of questions I have asked here, and the ones that I’m sure others will be asking elsewhere.  Otherwise, you might look like some poor little airheaded blogger girl.


When browsing through sites I read today, I saw quite a few interesting book-related news and links.

Carol Berg mentioned that a new trade paperback edition of her novel Song of the Beast will be coming out on October 21.  I read this several years ago (after discovering Carol Berg’s wonderful Rai-kirah trilogy) and rather enjoyed it.  According to this post, there will also be a Song of the Beast novella, but there will be more on that later!

Seanan McGuire got ARCs of One Salt Sea, the fifth Toby Daye novel, and is giving one away!  A winner will be randomly selected on Friday June 24.

Tor.com posted an excerpt from The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge, the long-awaited sequel to A Fire Upon the DeepJohn reviewed Children recently, and really liked it – he thought it seemed to be leading up to a third book and if so it was one of the best bridge books he’d ever read.  If it was the end, he found it very good but not quite satisfying as a conclusion.  We haven’t heard any news of a third book, but he thinks it really seems like it has to have been setting up more.

Suvudu has a 50 page excerpt from City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton, the sequel to Nights of Villjamur (which I got for my birthday and really need to read – it sounds really good!).

Yesterday I saw on Twitter that Courtney Schafer has an excerpt available from her upcoming novel The Whitefire Crossing. This first book in the Shattered Sigil series will be out in August.

Publisher’s Weekly reviewed The Tempering of Men, the sequel to Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s A Companion to WolvesThe Tempering of Men will be released in August.  I can’t wait to read it since I love both of these authors and loved the first book!